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As is his usual procedure, Cranky does not make any comparisons to the source material which, whether you believe it or not, Cranky is very familiar with. Once upon a time, a decade or so ago, Cranky attempted an acting career. Once upon a time, he played the role of Teach.
Which is why I'm chomping at the bit to compare the film version with the play version of American Buffalo. But I won't. What I will say is that when I first approached David Mamet's work, I found it almost impenetrable. It took many readings to get a feel for the language. It took many hours of working with and performing the character before I got a handle on it. It is not an easy piece to get a handle on.
Which is why you may wish to find a reviewer who explains this thing to you in great detail, unless you're a film student or live in an art house and are prone to obsess over layers and shadings and all that stuff.
Donny (Dennis Franz) operates a pawn shop, which puts him amongst the lowest of the bottom-feeders. He purchases the holdings of desperate people, and he sells them off for whatever profit he can make. He does not dwell on the misery of others -- indeed it is in his face in his personal life as his close friend, called Teach (Dustin Hoffman) is one of those desperate people.
You can buy a lamp, a toaster, or a stack of souvenir postcards from Donny. In a glass cabinet you will find a rotating shelf containing coins. Before the film begins, Donny has sold a Buffalo Head nickel to a customer without properly taking the time to find out what the coin is worth. Discovering that he has sold too cheaply, he wants the coin back. His teenage gofer, Bobby (Sean Nelson) has been following the customer, finding out where he lives and what his schedule is. Donny intends to send Bobby in to steal the coin back.
When Teach uncovers the plan, he wants in. Following the discovery is a ninety minute dialogue on the nature of friendship versus business, and how it is important to keep distinctions between the two. Teach's argument is that his long-standing experience (the "business" connection) should include him on the deal -- unspoken is the fact that Teach's situation is downright desperate. Donny recognizes that Bobby, for all his inexperience (and a mentioned-in-passing former drug habit), is less likely to screw the deal up; it is because of his friendship with Teach that Donny tries to hide the deal from him in the first place. Donny doesn't want to hurt his friend.
As the "thing" plays out, there are deals cut and compromises made. Cranky's personal compromise was that, for the first time in a very long time, he sat in a screening room at a private pre-release showing, with lots of ex-film students and real life, highly paid reviewers. Many of them walked out raving.
Cranky walked out wondering why he was bored silly. It isn't because I was unprepared for the piece. It isn't because I am a purist for the original composition. It isn't because I felt my choices for Teach, all those years ago, were superior to Dustin Hoffman's (I ain't that dumb ). I've contemplated the problem for a couple of days now and it comes down to the simple point that, as hard as I tried, I was unable to make any more than a tenuous connection with any of the characters. Teach is a character whose anger runs so close to the surface that, by the time it surfaces, it's too late. Donny's feeling of humiliation doesn't run close enough to the surface, and Bobby is as pitiful as the standards he looks up to.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for American Buffalo, he would have paid . . .
One buck each for Dennis and Dustin. A third to take it up to the equivalent of a weekend rental. There's no sense in any of you film students out there writing to tell me how wrong I am. I'm just as disappointed. This version may need just as many viewings to "get" as the many readings
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